Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944 - Anna Reid The books focuses mostly on the civilian experience of the siege, and - probably because of a bias in the availability of sources - on the experiences of educated middle class people. Who wrote. A lot.

Diaries are a major source, along with interviews conducted many years later, and for me that was the most fascinating aspect of the book. Once all the staggeringly grim statistics, the disgusting politics and the bureacratic incompetence are processed, there's this absolutely riveting thread of individual and collective human experience still to take in.

An entire city is locked up and starved. Is it a universal story? Maybe? (let's never find out) maybe not. Leningrad is not everycity, it's a particular, specific place. It's a grand, historical city, a highly educated one, a cultural and political center. It is a Russian city, and it's a city with its own, ineffable, character.

So what happens when everything is peeled away, bit by bit, from the human experience, and this city is sent down Maslow's pyramid? Security, safety, warmth, food and pretty quickly, life, all go. What remains? An easy myth is that everything is fine, people struggle nobly on in dignified, honest misery. But the notion that it's three meals to barbarism also appears to be an oversimplification. The reality is complicated, changeable and difficult to summarize.

I don't know that there's any particular conclusion to take away, but the collection of diaries, conversations and memories presented here are simply impossible to look away from. The thoughts and feelings of people being reduced down to corpses and then, for some, coming back. The small things that become vast outrages and vice versa. What stays important and what loses all meaning. Are people the same people through all that? Does a city stay a city?